9am and the local clinic is beginning to fill. A warning sign, just through the double entry doors and three feet from the reception, greets with prohibition: ‘Do not queue beyond this point’.
Three feet. The premium given to privacy.
The woman in front of me shuffles the crevasse between queue and receptionist, whispering her name, her appointment time, her address, the doctor she will see. All repeated by reception staff in a weary dismissive monotone that carries into the clinic’s silence. The motif Please take a seat, your name will be called shortly echoing after each of us as we reach the head of the queue and are ‘processed’.
The wheezing old man behind me shifts on bent legs. He coughs and farts. The woman behind him quietens a child’s high laughing voice which pipes that man pooped mummy. The man seems oblivious. He smells of piss, cigarettes, unwashed body. I take my seat and observe the Receptionist’s recoil and her wrinkled noise; her attempt to manage his deafness; the spraying of freshener whilst he struggles towards the waiting room.
The child runs towards the primary coloured kid’s corner and begins whacking bricks. The mother attempts restraint in a reasonable voice. Look how patient and tolerant and understanding I am this voice says. I am a good Mother this voice says. But the child blithely ignores her. He fixes on the old man and runs towards him. You pooped. You smell. Why did you poop? He says in a voice that reaches into every corner of the large room.
People stare at left behind magazines as his mother gathers him up. The old man has not heard.